Thursday, 29 December 2016

Seasonal Birds spotted at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary

This bunch of Bougainvillea flowers

This year the Sultanpur bird sanctuary opened later than usual. First it was, according to official sources because of the late arrival of migratory birds, an attempt according to them, to give the birds time for nesting. The second reason for the delay was because of fears lest the birds could have contracted bird flu. A few migratory birds had died allegedly in the New Delhi Zoo and the Okhla bird sancutuary. Fortunately no bird flu cases were reported in the sanctuary. 

White throated Kingfisher

A pair of spot bill ducks

Purple Swamp hen


A White-throated Kingfisher

Nesting female Lapwing
A female Asian antelope (Nilgai)

Nesting Swamp Hen

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Seasonal Birds - Purple Swamphen Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Seasonal Birds - Purple Swamphen Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: While looking around for something interesting to photograph at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, I came across these birds with bright red beaks. Their plumage had a bright purple sheen to it with gave them a rather bright reflective hue. These purple swam hen are quite common in the wet lands of North India.

The Peep Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

The Peep Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: When I visited the Sultanpur bird sanctuary, close to Gurgaon, Haryana, India, there was a lot of fog and mist, so I had to turn my attention animals that were closer to me. This female asian antelope was quite close to me so I took a snap of her. If you look closely at the reflection in her eyes, you might be able to see me.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Fake News destroys the credibility of professional reportage!

One of the trending topics in most media houses both internationally and in the country is that of Fake News has been on everyone's minds since late, and I have even curated an article on fake news on, under my page, Writing about Life in the digital age. Although that article struck a chord in my mind  I  forgot about it until  I came across the topic while reading the Hindustan Times newspaper on the 26th of December, 2016. The article appearing in the Hinduastan Times newspaper on page 14, was titled : "Fake news impact: Pak minister issues threat against Israel". Syndicated by the Press Trust of India, the article described how a fake news report about the Israeli defence minister warning of  "nuclear retaliation" for Islamabad's role in Syria  had caused the Pakistani defence minister to retaliate in the same manner! 

The article that I curated was titled, "Fake news is a convenient scapegoat, but the big 2016 problem was the real news"- the article that appeared on the 15th of December, 2016 reads, "Speaking in early December at a ceremony to honor Harry Reid’s retirement from the US Senate, Hillary Clinton took aim at a target that would have been totally unfamiliar to audiences as recently as the summer of 2016: fake news.

She spoke of “an epidemic” of the stuff that has “flooded social media” over the past year and “can have real-world consequences.”

This was reported largely as a commentary on the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which had recently led to an alarming armed standoff at DC’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant. But it was also pretty clearly an allusion to her own recently failed presidential campaign, especially because she spoke favorably of the idea of bipartisan legislation to curb foreign propaganda news, arguing that “it is imperative that leaders in both the private and public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”

The wide scale proliferation of news items by Citizen Journalists and the use of social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many others has furthered the rise of the Fake News phenomena. What is a cause of concern is lest such news should not cause knee-jerk reactions and retaliations by governments, organisations and even syndicates. In some cases, Fake News items are meant as a joke or a prank (that might seriously go bad) meant more to titillate the reader than for any other purpose. In other cases, Fake News items are meant to promote a TV serial, or for that effect to increase TRP ratings of a TV Channel, or in others cases to increase the readership of print media, newspapers, and magazines. Many vernacular language newspapers in India, the names of which would be on the tongues of many people are known to carry news items that are so farfetched that they stand out like a sore thumb! Yet, newspapers persist in announcing the discovery of a human like skeleton of a humanoid that was fifteen feet long, stoking the myths of superhuman beings living in the Himalayan mountains in ancient times!

One of the main reasons for the proliferation of Fake News is that ordinary people are using social networking sites like never before!The rise of the citizen journalist and the craze for a maximum number of hits and likes on social networking sites is partly responsible for the spread of rumours. The recent Demonetisation of currency in India has seen an increase in the number of fake news doing rounds in the country. One example of fake news was a popular story was about how the Government was coming up with a currency note of the Rs.1000 denomination.The pictures of the Rs.1000 denomination note seemed to be authentic enough, what with every detail on the bill being printed with great accuracy!  The news was later termed to be wrong.  Another Fake News item doing the in the initial days of the demonetisation of currency was based on the story that the new two thousand Rupee note had a GPS chip embedded in it. Like its predecessor, this story also turned out to be Fake news. Yet another Fake News story in a string of many, that did the rounds of popular news channels was about how a light bulb could be lit up using a two thousand Rupees denomination bill after it had been let to lie in the sun for half an hour.

While the immediate impact of fake news might ebb out in a matter of hours, in many cases, it might last longer often stoking communal tensions and they might also affect the religious sentiments of different communities. One can only hope that leaders of nations all around the world do not fall prey to the pranks and mischief of fake news. Major newspapers like The New York Times have acknowledged that Fake News has become an increasingly serious problem today. It is unfortunate that apart from citizen journalists, trained journalists and editors of printed newspapers and TV channels tolerate Fake News items. While news reports by ordinary citizens might be taken with a pinch of salt, the same should not be the case with trained and accredited journalists! Strangely enough, there are people even today who swear on the veracity of stories being printed in their favourite vernacular language newspapers.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Exploring student seating arrangements in school classrooms

The crew seating arrangement has been with us for quite some time and we have changed the way our students used to sit  (in rows) . The immediate advantages of shifting to crews or groups became evident as the arrangement provided for better collaboration among students and it encouraged group activities. Lesson plans had to be changed as they needed to cater to group activities, delegation of tasks to each group and increased teacher movement in class.
After some time however, a few niggling doubts began to creep in when one noticed the increased voice levels and the fact that there was more cross talking than when the students were sitting in rows. The reason perhaps was that when students sat in rows, they would not be able to talk to the backs of their friends’ heads, unless of course the student ahead turned his head, and then he would be caught by the teacher! What took time to understand was that this arrangement was suitable mainly for group group work - anything that went beyond collaborative work was not very successful. The use of the green board for demonstration purposes, and for noting important observations by crew, and the use of the white board to display projected images did not go well with the students who could not look at them because their backs were toward the front of the classroom.
Students who were sitting sideways had to crane their necks sideways at the green-board and the white board to note down important points while those with their backs to the front of the classroom had to depend on their crew members who were able to note down what was written on the green board and what was projected on the white board. The demand to look into their peer’s notebook meant that there was constant talking and this included protests when those who were able to look at the green board and the white board were being hampered from further noting important information.
The amount of cross talking did increase and I thought that perhaps it was because the children were being deliberately noisy. It was later that I observed that students who had their backs to other students were really not aware about the raised hands of their peers and they would start talking at the same time when the teacher nodded to a particular student to answer a question. The students who did not have a line of sight with some of the others were not aware of this and they started talking at the same time as their friends.
It became clear that the crew seating arrangement did offer a suitable line of vision for some students and thus demonstration classes were really not a tremendous success. The alternative was to ask the students to sit in rows when a demonstration was taking place, but then the amount of time it took to re-arrange the desks and chairs went beyond the permitted settling time!
The reason  why the crew seating arrangement is not successful at all times will become obvious in the first image posted below. While no doubt the advantages of the crew seating arrangement might have advantages in collaborative learning in the K-7 grades, the advantages begin to fade in the 8-12 grade levels where the teacher has to resort to the demonstration, and the lecture methods of teaching in class.
A suitable alternative to the crew seating arrangement would probably be the paired seating arrangement where students sit in pairs. The advantages of the second seating arrangement would offer better line of vision for both the teacher and the students. While groups of more than four might be manageable, groups of five or more would increase the need for teacher movement, and the voice level would increase as the number of students in each group exceeds four. In a class of more than twenty-five students, this means that the teacher will have to be constantly on the move! A more manageable arrangement for classes where there are more than twenty-five student would perhaps be to make them sit in pairs. Many years ago, students  sat on desks that seated pairs or even triples, and that arrangement worked fine. If you look at the second image, you will notice that the paired seating arrangement offers better line of sight, and perhaps it would be easier to manage pairs rather than more unwieldy groups of fives or even sixes.
The only disadvantage with the paired seating arrangement would be perhaps that then in a class of thirty; the teacher would have to cater to fifteen pairs or groups rather than six. Take for example the teaching of a poem. If the poem has five stanzas, then it would be easy to give one stanza to each group to analyse  the same for the central theme, mood, tone, figures of speech, overall atmosphere, and style of writing, a total of six elements. When you have fifteen pairs or groups, you probably have to give one stanza to two pairs and then you would have to give one pair the first three elements to analyse and the second pair the other three elements. The presentations however would take a lot of time.

The best alternative, I guess to all the above arrangements would be the Horse-Shoe Semi-Crew seating arrangment. In this case the students sit in a horseshoe shape and all the students can see each other, moreover, the teacher too can maintain eye contact with all his or her students. The horseshoe seating arrangement also provides enough space for the teacher to move around. I find this arrangement to be a most interesting and viable seating arrangement since it encourages the emotional connect between students and the teacher. The horseshoe seating arrangement will work very well in situations where you have a teacher owned classroom and students come to the class room for a particular subject.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

A Winter Carnival to Remember

Couldn't refuse a snap with two of my own students!

This year too, YUJAN, the winter carnival was all about getting together, food, games and cultural programmes. I was able to meet a lot of my old students who had passed out from the school in the previous years. I was able to watch Prachi perform on the stage as promised, and yes it was a time for bonding with my existing students too. Each time they passed me with pizza boxes in their hands, they offered me a bite, though I couldn't! But then enough of descriptions, why not take a glimpse of the carnival from the lens's point of view!

Hard at work at the stall, setting up the crane.

It is hard to debate in public rather than a formal setting - DEBSOC at it!

The DEBSOC stall

Neena Ma'am was so busy, she did not know I had taken a snap!

A candid moment

It was only last year was it? Meeting my old students.

I tried to draw his attention, but then he was busy grooming himself!

How fast children grow! It was only last year that I taught them in grade 8!

Anothother candid moment, a break from a hectic day!

I told them it would spoil the photograph, but then they did not listen!

I got to see the Golden Eagle in Gurgaon!
Caught them!

A pose for the camera!

The truck was driven by?  You guessed it, AI and IOT!

Wonder why he was laughing?

Some of the favourite movies

Famous authors? Anyone? Don't tell me people don't read anymore!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

What you must know about Content Marketing

Narrative and story-telling make the content compelling!

No, this blog post is not about marketing Kennel service, rather it is about drawing the attention of the reader!

Effective content marketing is dependent clearly on the skills of five different  experts, namely, ICT experts, Language experts, and Engineering experts or  the manufacturers themselves, the legal expert and last but not least, the legal expert. Companies that do not have all four experts on board will fail to have an effective marketing strategy. An example of what happens when you don’t have a legal expert on your team is brought out in the example of how   few advertisements have been accused of gender discrimination, objectification of women, and the mistake of making false claims. One of these ascribes to the claim that using a specific deodorant would attract the opposite sex! I would like to add here that advertisements are very much an integral part of content marketing! 

Nor is it the intention of the writer of this blogpost to market electronic components!

I run a blog, that you are reading right now, and yes, I would like to boost my SEO ratings, and get an Alexa rank too! I have been advised to use a lot of gimmicks such as memes, graphics, hash tags, info graphics and what not! It would not be wrong to state that all, if not few bloggers, writers and journalists to name a few are, in their own rights, content marketers and that makes me one too! Unfortunately, I am not very good at designing images and graphics but believe that narrative is what comes more naturally to me!

Graphics can be compelling to the eyes, but then this is neither about selling chairs!

However, it takes more than gadgets and the so called balance between text and graphics to make content marketable. A lot of content that I see on websites and in printed formats is attractive. It is presented in such a way that your eye is drawn to it, whether it is because of that alluring model in the foreground, (actually competing with the product itself) or the pleasing graphics, or perhaps even the colour scheme itself. In many cases however, when the targeted customer looks deeper into the matter, he or she is left with more questions and queries about the product. What makes matters worse is that if the target audience is a discerning and educated one, then grammatical errors, flaws in expression and those niggling spelling errors that stand out like a sore thumb in an otherwise well organised content will become great stumbling blocks for the firm that is marketing the product.

It is all about gold, isn't it?

For the discerning and well informed target audience it is what lies deeper in the content that matters. I guess they are more likely to read between the lines and even go through the fine print rather than go through the pleasing graphics and colour scheme of the content that might please a few but not satisfy the curiosity of many! The flaws in narrative and written content will damage the efficacy of a well-designed web post, or even a travel brochure, leading to a dip in trustworthiness and even sales of the end product.’'-*

No I am not marketing Orbeez balls in any case!

This brings us back to the question of what Content Marketing is. To answer this question I would like to take the liberty of quoting  Stewart Schley, “Content marketing aims to attract and persuade business customers by presenting them with interesting information in the forms of articles, blog posts, papers, videos and podcasts that engage audiences, generate favourable impressions and ultimately support buying decisions.”-How to put more (and better) content into content marketing   What will draw the eye of the reader is the eye-catching graphics but what will sustain the interest of the target audience is the “interesting information” that is provided in the content. To make the information interesting, there should be a narrative, and to make the narrative compelling, we need to have a story. What makes the story compelling is the flow of narrative and what make the flow of ideas smooth is the quality of syntax and semantics!

Content marketing needs to cater to a discerning audience.

This brings me to the argument, therefore, that writing of content material for advertising a product should be delegated to language experts and not technicians or experts in other fields though I don’t suggest in any way that they are incapable of supplying information on the product! Experts in languages can therefore celebrate the fact that Content Marketing can be a viable profession for them besides teaching languages and working as translators or transcribers! Content writing for content marketing purposes depends mainly on narrative and the ability to tell a story. Strangely enough, it does not require a very long narrative to tell a story, and often, some of the best stories are conveyed in the shortest number of words.

It is not my intention to let you linger on this picture of Orbeez balls but to let you continue with the narrative!

At the beginning of this article, I talked about how content marketing depends on five different fields of expertise which include ICT skills, Language skills, Legalese, knowledge about Psychology, and Technical expertise  (about the product), however it is possible to train a single person in at least three or more fields. A language expert can be trained in Law, and Psychology, while the ICT expert and the technical expert can be maintained as independent experts. What this means effectively is that when you combine the skills of a good story-teller with those of proficiency in legalese, and a sound knowledge of Psychiatry, then you get a good content developer. The art of story-telling is something that few content developers really focus on. Nothing can beat the effectiveness of a good story that has a hook in the beginning and a suitable conclusion at the end! This reminds me about how effective some “Testimonies” are in prayer meetings. Induction events involving new appointees, or in some cases even prospective employees in some organisations are built around narratives and stories extolling the transformational impact of a particular faith or even the cultural ethos of an organisation. “Testimonies”  and induction ceremonies entail exhaustive content development strategies and planning. They are examples of effective content marketing, examples from which a lot can be learnt.
I guess, I made a point, didn't I?

The Ants vs Anteater motivational video about team work, published on January 8, 2013 describes how unity and team work can help defeat adversities and adversaries. Most of the readers of this blogpost will recall seeing the animated video of ants coming together to defend one of them from being sucked into the mouth of an anteater. The second video is based on an animation sequence of crabs gathering together to defend themselves from the attack of a seagull. The advertisement for a transport company is a example of  effective content marketing because it has a story and a narrative that is compelling.  Besides delivering an important message about the strength of togetherness, it also attempts to convince the viewer to travel together.

*How to put more (and better) content into content marketing
Stewart Schley